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  • Introduction 3

    TheUpperRioGrandeMatachinesDanceSylviaRodrguez 6

    UnderstandingLosMatachinesLarryTorres 8

    MoctezumaandtheElders,theVirginandtheBull:theMatachinesDanceofGreaterMexicoEnriqueR.Lamadrid 11

    OneName,ManyDances:DifferentiatingtheDanzasdelosMatachinesMaxHarris 15

    YaquiMatachinisJimGriffith 19

    ForHer:TheTortugasDanzaandtheVirginofGuadalupeDeidreSklar 22

    Matachines:EnduringtheCenturiesJackLoeffler 25

    TheRoleofGenderinMatachinesEnactmentsBrendaM.Romero 31

    VisioningLaMalincheMiguelGandert 36

    Entriega 38

    Glossary 40


    Published by New Mexico Arts, a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

    All photographs by Claude Stephenson.

    All rights reserved by New Mexico Arts 2008. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior permission of the authors.


  • The first thank-you goes out to the National Endowment for the Arts and their American Masterpieces Program, without whose funding, neither this event nor this program booklet would have been possible; with special mention to John Ostrout and Andi Mathis of the Endowments State and Regional Programs for approving this Matachines project. The second thanks goes to New Mexico Arts Executive Director, Loie Fecteau, who allowed our Folk Arts Program to utilize the American Masterpiece funds for this historic event. The third thanks goes out to the Western States Arts Federation and Anthony Radich and Shannon Daut, who provided funds for educational and promotional materials, including this booklet, for this event. And a fourth big thank-you goes out to the National Hispanic Cultural Center and Reeve Love and Joseph Wasson and all of the performing arts staff for providing the most perfect and wonderful facility to host this first ever historic gather-ing of Matachines dance groups.

    The following thank-yous are in no particular order but each is no less important than those who had the luck to be listed above first.

    This event could not have been possible without all of the Matachines dance groups who not only agreed to come and perform at this event, but who have been keeping this important dance tradition alive in their communities for countless generations. Many were uncomfortable at first with the idea of bringing their groups away from their communities, as this dance is considered sacred by most who practice it, and so we thank them from our hearts for honoring us with their participation.

    The Arts Alliance staff and Cricket Appel deserve a little of our gratitude for administering the funds necessary to successfully undertake this endeavor.

    Id personally like to thank the authors and scholars who con-tributed to this event and to this booklet as well as our copy editor Celestia Loeffler and graphic designer Jaye Oliver. Also, kudos to the staff at the Vagabond Executive Inn in Albuquerque for cheer-fully accommodating the hordes of Matachines dancers who descended upon them.

    And finally, though perhaps most important of all, thanks go out to all the staff at New Mexico Arts without whose enduring help, none of this could have gone forward.


  • IntroductionAt mid-day on Christmas Eve in Picuris Pueblo, the brisk

    winter air heavily scented with pion and cedar smoke and simmer-ing posole with chile, two strangely masked characters begin their appointed rounds. Going from house-to-house and knocking on doors and windows, they cry out in a high descending falsetto hoo-hoo calling the dancers to assemble on the plaza. Men carrying ribbon-covered costumes and colored wands emerge from the warmth of their homes and begin to congregate beside the old adobe church where children are playing beside small, neatly stacked pallets of freshly split cedar. To the accompanying strains of a violin being tuned, the dancers disappear into a small room to dress while the people of the Pueblo begin arriving and greeting each other, milling about the plaza and lightly stamping their feet to drive away the cold. Hoo-hoo call the masqueraders again and again as they circle and weave through the gathering throng. The violinist, accompanied by a guitarist, begins to play an oddly haunting melody and the dancers, now dressed in fabulous costumes with their faces obscured by scarves, walk out in two files into the center of the plaza and begin to dance the ancient Southwestern ritual drama known as Matachines. For an hour they weave and swirl, they squat in place, then rise again waving their fan-like wands and shaking gourd-shaped rattles to the tempo of the music. A young girl in a white dress dances in and out among them, chaperoned by the two myste-rious masked characters, who continue calling out in their high falsetto voices. A man dressed as a bull joins them as the girl watches from a chair on the sidelines. Then, just as suddenly as they began, the dancers stop and file back inside and the crowd begins to disperse.

    After dark, with the small neatly stacked piles of wood now ablaze, the musicians and dancers return and promenade in the eerie light surrounding the plaza, wending their way through the luminarias to the church for a final dance performance in front of the altar. Then it is all over. The Matachines will not appear again for an- other year. What is this dance? a visiting tourist asks me. I dont know, I reply, its a mystery. Ive been studying it for years and I still dont really know.


  • I wrote the preceding piece nearly ten years ago and upon reflection, I realize that Im no closer to an explanation for the Matachines dance now than I was then. Im somewhat resigned to the fact that we will likely never know the real truth behind the mystery. It is what it is. Ive simply come to love the dance in situ, enjoying what each of the communities who continue to practice it make of it in their own personal fashion. To that end Ive invited some of them to come and share their interpretation of the dance with each other and with all of you who attend this unprecedented event. I hope that you will enjoy their performances and take with you a better understanding of its simple and elegant beauty as well as its importance to the communities who have chosen to keep it alive. I would also hope that you gain a quiet respect for the per-sonal commitment of each individual dancer that is necessary and implicit to performing this timeless ritual.

    Ive also invited nine fellow scholars of the Matachines dance to offer their insights and opinions about the dance for this booklet. I asked them to write about the dances significance, meanings, history, origins, music, steps, and practice in New Mexico and surrounding states. I was flattered and honored that all of them enthusiastically accepted my offer to participate in this project. I am therefore quite pleased to now present to you their interpreta-tions of the Matachines dance and I hope you find their essays as compelling and interesting as I have.

    Ive invited nine fellow scholars of Matachines dance to offer their insights...

    Claude Stephenson

    New Mexico State Folklorist

  • Alcalde Danzante and Abuelo

  • TheUpperRioGrandeMatachinesDanceSylviaRodrguez

    he Matachines is the only ritual drama that both Pueblo Indian and Hispano communities perform in the Upper Ro Grande Valley. Some perform the dance in midwinter, others in summer. Style and detail vary widely from place to place, but common elements define a distinctive regional complex that stretches between Taos in the north and Tortugas in the south. There, a symbolic battle of trans-formation is enacted in several musical and choreographic sets by a king and a young girl, a bull or toro, usually two clowns or abuelos (lit. grandfathers), and two lines of eight or ten danzantes, thought by some to represent soldiers. The festive air of the dance carries a subtle undertone of violence that culminates in the death and/or castration of the bull. Many locals will tell you the dance portrays the triumph of good over evil, the holy virgins conversion of the pagan king. Others allude to a spiritual marriage. Another reading finds a hidden transcript of native regeneration and resistance against foreign invaders. The complex intricacy of every dance set and ritual gesture suggests a clear message that nonetheless remains elusive. The power of the dance lies in how its basic plot gets played out with such astonishing variation, each locality imparting its own distinctive stamp.

    Some scholars trace the Matachines to the morisca, a dance said to have originated in Medieval Spain in the twelfth century or earlier as a pantomime of Moorish-Christian combat. Catholic missionaries to the New World saw their encounter with Indians through the eight-hundred-year-old glass of Moro-Cristiano conflict. Fresh from Spains Reconquista and fortified with the power of Inquisition, they deployed the dance and similar forms as a vehicle for Christianizing Indian converts. No one knows precisely when or how the Ro Grande Pueblos incorporated the dance into their ritual calendar, but we assume this signaled their conversion to Christianity. The Matachines dance commemorates this bittersweet change in all its ambivalent, poignant beauty.

    Some Pueblos attribute the dance not to church fathers like their Hispano neighbors, but to a Mexican-Indian king, identified in the dance as the figure of Monarca or Montezuma. He is dressed and masked like the danzantes, with a palma or trident in his left


    The power of the dance lies in how its basic plot gets played out with such astonishing variation

  • hand and a guaje or rattle in the right, but he wears a crown instead of a